TURNING POINT: Shaking A Sick Justice System

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/ 17 Oct) – Our justice system is virulently shaken in the advent of the Trillanes amnesty nullification case.

Consider this. The Executive Department usurped the power of the Supreme Court when the President nullified the amnesty granted to Sen. Antonio Trillanes VI and ordered him arrested without due process, through Proclamation 572 on the claim that the senator did not  comply with the requirement of the grant, particularly his failure to  submit an application form.

The Supreme Court, on the other hand, was remiss on its duties when it did not act on the petition regarding the constitutionality of Proclamation 572, re the nullification of an amnesty that was granted by the joint act of the President and Congress. If amnesty were a joint act and if it were to be nullified for one reason or another, it  logically follows, petitioner argues, that it should also be acted upon both by the President and Congress.

The Supreme Court, instead of acting on the primary issue raised by the petition, that is, the legality or constitutionality of Proclamation 572, opted instead to deal first with the alleged failure of Sen. Trillanes to submit or file an application form to deserve the grant of amnesty. Inasmuch as the SC is not a trier of facts, the case had to be remanded to a trial court.

On that basis, the DOJ, on behalf of the President reopened the cases of Sen. Trillanes, dismissed seven years ago, at the Makati Reg. Trial Courts Branch 150 (for rebellion) and  Branch 148 (for coup d’etat).

RTC Branch 150 acted quickly ex parte, without any hearing, on the information of the  DOJ  which sought to nullify the amnesty granted to Trillanes for his failure to submit the necessary application form. It issued an arrest warrant and a hold-departure order for the embattled senator.

When the liberty of a person is at stake, is it not incumbent for the court to hold a hearing to get the side of the accused?

The evidence submitted by the petitioner DOJ to support its allegation was a certification from the Department of National Defense from a certain Lt Col Thea Joan Andrade of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel JI that there is no available copy of Trillanes’ application for amnesty in the records.

Does it follow that when an application form is not in the records an application was never ever made or the application form was never ever submitted?

Yet, Judge Elmo Alameda considered the certification strong enough to support Proclamation 572, that indeed the senator failed or did not submit an application form to deserve the grant, hence his amnesty was null and void from the beginning. The adverse decision was made, notwithstanding the fact that Sen. Trillanes submitted two testimonial affidavits to counter Lt Col. Andrade’s DND certification – that of Col. Josefa Berbigal and former Defense Undersecretary Honorio Azcueta.

Berbigal, the head of secretariat of the committee tasked to process amnesty applications in accordance with a proclamation by former president Benigno Aquino III, testified that she administered the oath to Trillanes when he submitted his application form in January 2011. This form, she said, contained a section on admission of guilt. Azcueta, on the other hand, the chair of the department ad hoc committee on amnesty attested that Sen. Trillanes complied with the requirements for amnesty.

Between a certification and an affidavit which weighs heavier in court?

We were made to believe that to be accepted in a judicial court, an information has to be notarized to make public its truthfulness or veracity. To avoid fraudulence and to certify authenticity, a document for legal use or purpose likewise undergoes notarization.

What prompted the Judge to give too much weight to a certification from a relatively unknown DND officer over some judicial affidavits of some DND officials that were directly involved in the processing of the application of Sen, Trillanes for amnesty?

And why is the presence of the application form that important to the case? What is in it that requires its physical appearance? If it is about its content re the admission of guilt, would not the counter affidavits submitted by the accused of no probative value when these are prepared by the very officials of the DND who processed the application? If the form is missing or lost, would not a judicial testimony regarding its existence acceptable to somehow correct or prove its past existence?

The missing or lost application form was not in the custody of the accused but in the custodial DND, an institution under the command of the Commander-in-Chief, the primary accuser in the case at bar. Hence, it is understandable if it will never be found at all. In fact, it is expedient, that it shall be lost for good without any trace inasmuch as the application form cannot be used to support but instead would debunk the allegation of Proclamation 572.

If Judge Alameda dismissed the Trillanes affidavits as mere substitutes, what can he say on the certification of Lt. Col Joan Thea Andrade, a gospel truth beyond reasonable doubt enough to commit the accused back to jail?

It is likely that, if not rescued, the legal principle of  “double jeopardy” may also land in jail.

Fortunately, Judge Andres Soriano of RTC Branch 148 who was to try on the coup d’ etat case against  Sen. Trillanes did not follow Alameda’s course  of yielding to the prayer of the DOJ, that is, of issuing lightning fast an arrest warrant and a hold-departure order but chose  to uphold due process  by conducting a continuing hearing  of the case, allowing the parties to submit and argue their evidences.

Meanwhile, the Trillanes camp filed a Motion for Reconsideration in RTC Branch 150, praying, among others, for a similar hearing obtaining in RTC Branch 148.

Shaken and shambling, the justice system still works, so it appears. There is still a glimmer of hope that truth  prevails and justice will eventually be served.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)